Sometimes the best move is not to play

Posted on 10/31/2012 in misc

This post, relating the battle between traditional political pundits and Nate Silver to the conflict between proponents of traditional evaluations of student performance in school versus the new wave of statistical student evaluation ignores what I think is the bigger question.

Why are we so hell bent on measuring students success in school in the first place?

Succeeding in school may not be an indicator of anything useful, and in fact may only be a measure of how well the student navigated school. Since school is nothing like real life, mastering school is not a particularly useful skill. Millions of homeschoolers are turning out just fine without going to school at all. We all know kids that were model students through high school yet have not succeeded* in life. Likewise, we all know people that struggled through high school, yet ended up as very successful college students, or ended up successful without going to college.

*(Successful defined as a happy, productive member of society)

I know why government and school administrators want to slice and dice kids into quantifiable pieces. They need to justify their jobs. They think they need to justify the tax dollars. I disagree on both. Access to education is an universal human right. The government should make it available, keep it simple and cost effective, and leave it up to the parents and kids to worry about taking advantage. But why do parents allow this crap to go on? If the goal of education is to turn out self-sufficient adults that can take part in governance of the country via voting and be productive enough to help move GDP up, then 92nd percentile or 72nd percentile in math is sort of a meaningless distinction. Sure, colleges need a way to assess if the prospective engineering major really has the math chops to handle the curriculum, and that kind of voluntary measurement I have no problem with. It may not actually be much more useful than statewide standards of learning, but at least it is voluntary in the sense that if you want to be an engineer, you know you need to jump through the SAT math hoop. We don't give kids a choice on statewide standards of learning.

The idea that there is some universal body of knowledge that everybody needs to know is silly. The idea that we can and should reduce kids to a series of test scores is downright revolting. To the extent that I would compromise on some standard of learning for school measurement, the body of knowledge would be reduced down to the 3 Rs. If you can read, write and do enough math to solve for X, you are good. Everything else should be an elective.

The best move for education reform is to stop trying to reform it. Give kids the basic skills they need to learn, and get the hell out of their way.

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